God of Carnage
What: Stage dramedy
Where: Blue Barn Theatre, 614 S. 11th St.
When: Tonight through Oct. 18. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 6 p.m. Oct. 6 and 13. No performance Oct. 19 or 20.
Tickets: $25 adults, $20 students and senior citizens.
Information: 402-345-1576 or bluebarn.org
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“God of Carnage,” which opened the Blue Barn Theatre's 25th season Thursday night, presents two New York couples who bicker — ≠≠with each other, each other's spouses, their own spouses, men against women, women against men — pretty much every combination of bickering four people can make.
It's funny, even hilarious, watching these self-proclaimed “civilized adults” devolve from polite decorum to acting like children.
Some moments are also squirm-inducing in their ugliness.
Playwright Yasmina Reza, much as she did with her other best-play Tony-winner, “Art,” pokes beneath the veneer of affluence and pseudo-sophistication to explore a darker side of human nature and, by extension, of ourselves.
Veronica and Michael Houllie have invited Alan and Annette Reille to their posh apartment to discuss a playground altercation. The Reilles' 11-year-old son, Benjamin, hit the Houllies' son, Henry, with a stick, breaking two teeth.
Veronica (Theresa Sindelar), initially the most desirous of harmony, serves espresso and clafouti (is it a tart, or more like a cobbler, they wonder aloud). She's writing a no-doubt sensitive book about Darfur. But, determined to instill shame or regret in the Reilles and their son, she turns out to have her own judgmental take-no-prisoners attitude.
She is undermined by Michael (Jerry Longe), the most uncouth of the bunch, who at first is quick to agree with the Reilles and then denounces child-rearing as horrible and grueling. He lands on shaky ground after describing how he released his daughter's annoying pet hamster into the wilds of New York City.
Alan (Ablan Roblin), a high≠powered lawyer, is constantly on his cellphone, coaching damage control and media spin with a pharmaceutical client whose drug causes horrific symptoms. Openly rude and sexist, but the most honest, he says his son is a savage, most everybody acts out of self-interest, and not much can be done about it.
Annette (Jill Anderson), constantly on the brink of a panic attack, thinks communication is the key to resolving the situation. But, abandoned by her husband and lacking in self-confidence, she resorts to the bottle and destructive tendencies. She also makes excuses for her son, saying he was verbally provoked and ganged up on.
“God of Carnage” is that rare bird of a play that entertains and gives pause in equal measure. None of these characters is likable, but whose side you're on in each new clash can be self-revealing.
Which actor you like best may also depend on your viewpoint, but all four are laudable. I think my favorite was Roblin, whose character is so blithely blunt and unapologetic, but director Susan Clement-Toberer makes sure they're equally credible. Emotions and tone turn on a dime for the entire, intermissionless 85 minutes.
Besides sensitive direction, strong acting and a lacerating script, the show's greatest asset is Martin Scott Marchitto's chic retro scenic design. Dark leather benches, geometric shapes, a pieced wooden wall covering and beautiful artwork make you wish you lived like the Houllies, even if you don't want to act like them.